Monday, June 25, 2012

Sin, Shaun Allan

This is one of the more thought provoking novels I have ever come across.  I had to read it twice, before I could sit down and write this review!  Indie author Shaun Allan has created a real masterpiece with Sin.  Allan's style is narrative, and in a way, reminded me of James Joyce's equally compelling 'Finnegan's Wake'.  Others have compared Allan's style to Stephen King and Dean Koontz; and there is a slight similarity to their work as in it is definitely horror, but I am here to tell you Shaun Allen is an original in the purest sense. This is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Finnegan’s Wake."

Sin is a dark, urban fantasy, written with large dose of sardonic humor. We hear the tale from the man who was given the name 'Sin Mathews' at birth, but who goes by the name of Sin only, as the last name doesn't matter; only the name which is the sum of his parts matters.

Sin finds a coin, a two pence coin, or perhaps the coin finds him. Either way, this is the catalyst for Sin's curse. He finds himself flipping the coin compulsively -flip, catch - and it arcs through the air he sees images of disaster and death, which is then reported on the news. Eventually he realizes every time he flips the coin, someone dies; sometimes a lot of people die in what he believes are 'unnatural disasters' timed perfectly to the flip of the coin.  Though he tries to avoid flipping the coin, he finds himself doing it anyway.

No matter how he tries, he can't throw it away, or lose it. The coin always comes back to him when he buys something and gets his change; or even just appearing in his pocket.

Sin receives a letter from his sister Joy, telling him she had found a coin, and when she flipped it she made lives. She wrote that the responsibility for making the world happy was too much for her. She was alone in world of happiness she couldn't be a part of, and she killed herself.  Sin apparently had found his coin right after her death.  He decides to check himself into an insane asylum in order to get the sort of psychotropic drugs which will render him incapable of seeing the visions, and flipping the coin.

Sin's conversations with Dr. Connors in the opening chapter are adversarial, and illuminating. For the most part, he enjoys his stay in the asylum, but, being sane, he sees the sordid truth in the callous treatment and chronic over-medication of the patients.

Although posing as a mentally ill patient works for a while, the medications soon cease to be effective and he decides that since the coin always comes back to him as if by magic, maybe he has the power to teleport.  He resolves to commit suicide by teleporting himself into the heart of a furnace, hoping for instant incineration.  Unfortunately, he finds himself on a beach, instead of in Hell where he had hoped to be.

Sin has an encounter with Joy who tells him death is not what it is cracked up to be. She warns him "a storm is coming".  He continues his inadvertent journey, trying to get his bearings. After a chance meeting which reveals more of his powers, he finds himself in Grimsby, the home of his childhood.

The atmosphere throughout is surrealistic, but it is well-balanced Allen's lyrical, intimate style of prose, as in this series of images describing Sin's disorientation, “History doesn’t relate whether Jonah, Gepetto, and Pinocchio sat around a table eating pizza, sharing stories of prophecy and puppetry while in the belly of the whale, but I thought that I could relate to being swallowed whole.” 

Throughout the novel, Sin's ruminations are self-mocking, and world-weary, yet naive and innocent.  He bears the guilt of the world, and suffers the unbearable pain of being the cause of so many deaths, but still he finds ironic humor in every situation. Joy is grounded and guides him to the truth, but is not allowed to tell him anything.

 Nothing is what it seems in this tale, and right up to the end, you are not sure which reality is real.

The facts come out, or do they?  This book is a rollercoaster ride from the start to the finish, and I give it 5 stars for originality.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

72 - hours to Crack the Universe’s Code; Mark O'Brien

72 - hours to Crack the Universe’s Code by indie author Mark O'Brien  is a novel of political intrigue, mathematics, passion and underlying it all, an imperative directive to humanity with dire galactic overtones.

Somewhat like the Illuminati, the Mathematika is a mysterious Greek society founded long before Christianity. The reason for its existence is to bring mankind ‘that which they know but cannot understand’ and was created to ‘safeguard the truths until mankind was ready to understand them’. Now the time has come, and the Mathematika is now ruled by the dark fanatic, Alexander Kepler – who believes ethical lines were drawn so you would know where to cross them. Yet, although he is extremely violent, murderous and obsessive, Kepler is a family man, and his relationship with his wife is one of the lighter parts of the tale. This most violent and evil of men is also a romantic, tender lover. However, the time has come for the world to know some basic truths about the Universe, and it is Kepler’s task to insure they are made public.

To this end, he kidnaps a renowned Muslim leader, Ibn Qurra. His henchmen also kidnap the renowned Rabbi Jacobi, and Father George Pappus, president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation -  all three at 10:45 am on the same day.

Not all of Kepler’s heavies are 100% behind him, one is a traitor, and another considers him to be insane. All the heavies are individuals, which makes reading them enjoyable.

Ransoms are sent: a series of 3 mathematical equations which all must be solved one per day within 72 hours. If one equation is wrong, all three of the kidnapped men will die.

The protégé of George Pappus, Clancy Sylvester, astrophysicist and mathematician, is determined to get his mentor back. The author has researched all three of the religions represented by the three kidnapped leaders, and also the cultures they represent.  The author also appears to have a firm grasp of mathematics, as I do NOT; but  on the positive side he did not make me have to do the thinking so the math was fine. Clancy’s friend Jules Hadamard (female, despite the name) who is a math genius explains it all. All of the characters are distinctly individual, and if some are over the top, well that is part of the fun.
While O'Brien goes a little heavy on the descriptions at times, over all this is a compelling read. There are moments of humor and also of pathos, and the action is non-stop. All in all, I found this to quite entertaining, and well written. This is a good read, and I do not hesitate to recommend it!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cornerstone, by Misty Provencher

Nalena's story captured me from the first sentence. The image of a girl living with a mother who writes constantly, filling the house with piles and piles of paper covered with small, neat writing, was addictive. And Nalena herself is beautifully realized. Like Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix, she is adolescent and angry.

Her anger is understandable. She is bullied at school, and she has to lug home those reams of paper for her mom. She's pretty, and she could be popular, but because one girl saw the inside of her home, her nickname is "The Waste."

It isn't until she meets Garrett Reece that her life begins to change. He is gorgeous and kind, and his family takes Nalena and her mother in. More importantly, he seems to understand her mom and why Nalena herself is starting to experience some strange episodes of her own.

Provencher insisted on including the fantasy element in the book, to the point of rejecting agents' cries for a rewrite into a more realistic book. The fantasy is well-done, although the ending does feel a bit rushed. (As a fellow author I can sympathize; endings are incredibly difficult to pull off.) Still, it's satisfying and makes me want more.

Keystone will be the next in the series, and I shall certainly look for it.

Here's what I liked about the book:

1. The writing is fantastic. "A wave of hot, rancid stomach soup rolls through me." I remember that stomach soup feeling from my own teens. That little sentence captures that feeling of dread perfectly. 

Another example: "There's a whole library full of empty tables up front, but this boy, with hair that would probably feel like soft twine between my fingertips, has to sit here." Great description, and I'm very thankful that she resisted the urge to use the Jewel Words: topaz eyes, etc. 

2. Nalena herself. She's a well-drawn, conflicted character.

3. The tensions between Nalena and her mother. It's perfect and logical.

4. Provencher is self-published, and the format and edit are just about perfect. Too many self-published novels roll into cyberspace with myriad errors, and Cornerstone is clean of those. Again, as an author with a small (tiny) press, I appreciate this. Self-publication is an art form, and Provencher has pulled it off beautifully!

A few quibbles:

1. You know that I love female friendships. Nalena and Garrett become friends, but she doesn't have a girlfriend to chat with in the book. The one girl who hangs with her in school, Cora, is depicted as a physically repulsive, not-very-nice person. I would have preferred to see a friend who could be counted on throughout the story.

2. Garrett was just a bit too perfect. He's gorgeous and kind, as I said, but he really would have sprung to life if he had a few flaws. 

Perhaps these will be addressed in the next book. And I'm being very picky. For those quibbles, I give Provencher a 4 out of 5 stars, and I definitely recommend this as a great read.

You can buy Cornerstone here: on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble Nook
and find Misty Provencher here:
She is also on Twitter: @mistyprovencher